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Van Gogh's Sunflowers Reimagined

by Matt Fisher

Published on September 19, 2015

Last fall, as part of the Invent Anything online program, I started creating a reimagined version of one of my favorite pieces of art, Van Gogh's Sunflowers.  After working steadily on the project for a month, I had to cannibalize the moving painting piece so I could give the littleBits modules to students who were using our makerspace in the School of Education.   I finally got back to the piece and rebuilt the internal workings with the missing littleBits modules.  And voila!  My reimagined Van Gogh's Sunflowers is complete.  



Duration: On and off for 9 months

Credits: Matthew Fisher, Director, SELF Design Studio Sarah Prescott, LIS Graduate Student

How To Make It

STEP 1 : Getting started

I first started by creating the casing / rough frame from foam board. The size is roughly 30 cm x 40 cm. I cut out a working space (canvas) for the top which will lay over the top of the frame.

STEP 2 : Painting the picture, mounting and cutting

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Flower with foam board mounting

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Flower with foam board mounting

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Holes for servos and motors in the painting

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Back of the flower, built up with foam board pieces and a piece to attach the motor mount

The next step was to paint the picture. I used watercolor pencil and pen / ink. I mounted each part to foam board with adhesive spray and cut out the individual part of the painting (flowers, flower pot) with an Exacto blade.   I cut out parts of the painting where the servos and motors will poke through to the front of the painting.  Then I built up the back sides of serval of the flower parts so that the pieces will at different distances from the front of the painting.  

STEP 3 : Mapping out the littleBits components

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The next step was to map out where to put the different littleBits components on the painting. Servos, motors, RBG LEDs... I decided on 3 servos, 2 motors, and a few LEDs. I also decided to have the painting be activated by motion, so I used the motion sensor, which I placed so that the sensor would stick out from the bottom of the painting.

STEP 4 : ... and then I ran into a power problem

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USB power and cable used for POWER!

I found that one 9 volt battery did not have enough juice to adequately power all of the components in my circuit. The servos and motors were huge drains on the power. I tried to create a work around by creating two separate circuits, dividing up the motors and servos between the two circuits and activating each circuit by it's own motion sensor. 

After consulting with some fine folks at littleBits and the forum, I tried using a USB lipstick charger, but eventually decided to use the USB power and cable, which plugs into the wall.  Unlimited power!  

On a future iteration of the project, I'd like to laser cut gears which would control all of the parts of the painting without individual components.  But, that's a project for another day. 



STEP 5 : Connecting all of the components (with wires and adding pulse modules)

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All of the modules on the mounting boards

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Inside the frame

I pieced all of the littleBits together on the mounting boards and added a few pulse modules to have the flower parts turn and spin at different rates and directions.

STEP 6 : Piecing it all together

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Finished reimaged Van Gogh sunflowers painting

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LEDs taped to the back of the canvas

The last step was to put the cover on the frame and attach flower parts to the servos and motors. There are holes for three RGB LED's which illuminate the painting from behind several of the flowers.

I added some additional elements to the bottom layer of the canvas (flower stems) to tie all of the moving pieces back together.  

Once plugged in, the painting is activated whenever the motion trigger detects movement.  It's a little too sensitive to movement, so we may try to alter the motion trigger so that it doesn't pick up every movement in the room.  


STEP 7 : See the painting in motion

Click here to see the painting activated by motion! https://youtu.be/IKkj6J34CpM

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